The Golden Bough by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Exhibited 1834. Oil on canvas, 1041 x 1638 mm. Courtesy of Tate Britain (Accession no. NO0371. Presented by Robert Vernon 1847.) Click on image to enlarge it.

Commentary from Tate Britain Online (2010)

This subject comes from Virgil’s poem, the Aeneid. The Trojan hero, Aeneas, has come to Cumae to consult the Sibyl, a prophetess. She tells him he can only enter the Underworld to meet the ghost of his father if he offers Proserpine a golden bough cut from a sacred tree.

Turner shows the Sibyl holding a sickle and the freshly cut bough,in front of Lake Avernus, the legendary gateway to the Underworld. The dancing figures are the Fates. Like the snake in the foreground, they hint at death and the mysteries of the Underworld, amidst the beauty of the landscape.

Related classical themes

Related compositions — Claudean trees

Last modified 14 May 2016